Designing a Better Climbing Guide Website; Exploring the Effect of Climbing Guide Websites on Outdoor Rock Climbing

Lepsch, Benjamin, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Stafford, William, University of Virginia

Rock climbing is a fast-growing sport, especially in the United States. The growth rate for U.S. based climbing gyms in 2021 was 8.24%, and has surpassed 5% every year for the eleven years prior (Climbing Business Journal). However, climbing gyms only represent part of the sport: many climbers also climb outside. Traditionally, climbers learned about new climbing areas, or crags, from talking to other climbers or buying physical guidebooks sold locally. These methods still work for finding new places to climb, but now online websites offer a larger and sometimes more comprehensive catalog for climbers to browse through – for free. The STS research paper will use the Actor-Network Theory framework (ANT) to investigate the effect climbing websites have had on outdoor rock climbing in the US.
The technical focus of this project aims to streamline the process of finding climbing areas online by designing a website to leverage data from rock climbing guide websites and recommend routes to users based on their climbing preferences and abilities. There are a multitude of climbing guide websites available on the internet: Mountain Project is the one that I personally use and is likely the most popular, but there are other options such as theCrag, 27 Crags, etc. Many of these websites have the same basic features. They allow users to search for locations, then once you select a location, they allow users to filter climbs by grade, style of climbing, how many pitches the route is, and how other users have rated the climb. It will then display a list of climbs matching the desired criteria, and users can browse through them to see pictures of the climb, a description for how to get to the start, and comments left by other users.
This is a very functional interface, but is missing some features that could be helpful. For example, many of the more popular routes have plenty of pictures and long descriptions to make identifying the correct place to climb easy. However, less popular areas frequently lack pictures of the routes, and the descriptions are shorter and less helpful. This can make climbing the route harder: when you are standing at the bottom of a rock face sixty feet high and a few hundred feet wide, it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly where on the wall the climb is supposed to go. My technical project will aim to remedy issues like this. I plan to use web scrapers to access data from Mountain Project and other guide websites, then design a website for users to filter data according to location, whether or not a route has pictures/a description of a certain length, and more.
All of the popular guide websites have started relatively recently, with Mountain Project only being created in 2005. The impact that they have on the climbing scene is not fully understood – it’s likely that putting a crags’ information online will generally increase its popularity, but this can have mixed effects in turn. My STS paper will explore this relationship more thoroughly in an attempt to understand the effect that guide websites have had on the outdoor rock climbing scene.
This research will be important for after I have finished designing my website, when I decide how to implement and market it. If I find that climbing guide websites have a mostly negative impact on crags, it could be seen as unethical to continue developing and eventually release my website. On the other hand, if guide websites improve the climber’s experience without causing harm to the crags, it could be worth persuading landowners who keep the crags on their property off the internet to consider allowing this information online.

Thank you to Professors Travis Elliott, William Stafford, and Brianna Morrison for their guidance and assistance during my planning, technical project, and STS research.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
rock climbing, climbing, website design, python

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman

STS Advisor: William Stafford

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: